‘We would like to do more there’s just no money’, Wokingham Borough Council’s leader has said as he reflects on the first six months of a Liberal Democrat taking charge. 

Cllr Clive Jones “shares everybody’s concerns” about the challenging cost-of-living residents are facing and pledges to carry on “taking difficult decisions” balancing the council’s budget. 

Liberal Democrats, as part of a partnership alongside Labour and the Independents, took control of the council from the Conservatives following last May’s local elections – with a majority of two. 

The new leadership was immediately hit with needing to make “difficult financial decisions”. 

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Cllr Jones said: “We were confronted within the first 10 minutes of taking over with ‘do you want to support these 18 bus services beyond October?’ which is just incredible.   

“We want people to be using buses, walking, and cycling rather than using their car, so we had to support them.” 

Like residents, the council has been facing its own challenges dealing with the cost-of-living crisis as it is also affected by rising energy costs and spiralling inflation.  

It has been suggested that moving to fortnightly waste collections could save the council over a million pounds, much of which would be spent dealing with the effects of inflation so public services could be maintained.  

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Last month, the leadership sounded the alarm about a £4m hole in the council’s finances, meaning further savings or revenue increases to address the large shortfall would be required. 

“Because of the dire economic situation that the country is in, the main priority still has to be financial stability for the council,” Cllr Jones explained. 

“It does seem so negative to say that but as [a former] executive member for finance said ‘there’s no point in having a council that’s bust’”. 

If money wasn’t so tight, the council would like to spend more money on adult social care and children’s education, but Cllr Jones warned that the budget must be balanced to prevent being taken over by government commissioners, like nearby Slough Borough Council.  

“We are doing what we have to do but we can’t do anything more. We would like to repair more roads, repair more footpaths. There’s just no money to put them right,” he said. 

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Cllr Jones highlighted the raising of car park charges as “without doubt” the most difficult decision he has taken during his time in office. 

He emphasised that there was “no choice” but to do this due to revenue shortfall of nearly £800,000. 

Despite the bleak financial outlook, the administration has made decisions to help those most in need because they were “the right thing to do”. Cllr Jones highlighted their guarantee of free school meals to needy children during school holidays before the government pledged any support. 

He concluded: “I share everybody’s concerns about the cost-of-living crisis, they affect me, they affect all of our executive members, all of our councillors, all the employees of the borough council. They affect all of us. 

“We know that things are getting difficult, but [the administration] will make sure we’ve got a balanced budget. We will still do our best to protect the vulnerable people in the borough and face up to taking difficult decisions.”